Grapevine: Goodbye Olympics, hello Maccabiah!

In August 1942, at least 27,000 people in Rostow were massacred by Nazi troops. More than half of the victims were Jews.

By
August 14, 2012 21:41
Visitors at Yad Vashem

Visitors at Yad Vashem 370. (photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)

 
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Athletes don’t have to much time to think about defeat because there’s always another challenge around the corner. There are lots of international competitions in which Israeli athletes will vie in the months ahead, and for many members of team Israel, one of the big challenges in just under a year from now will be the 19th Maccabiah Games, which will be take place in Israel from July 17-30, 2013, with the opening ceremony scheduled for July 18 in Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium and the closing event in Haifa’s new Ofer Stadium.

Although he couldn’t attend the Friday night opening of the Olympic Games in London because there was no suitable hotel within walking distance, President Shimon Peres is scheduled to attend the opening of the Maccabiah Games, which will not conflict with Jewish tradition and will be easily accessible. Teddy Stadium is less than a 15-minute ride from the President’s Residence. The opening will mark the conclusion of the Maccabiah’s 80th anniversary year. Amir Peled, chairman of the 19th Maccabiah committee, intends to make next year’s event the biggest and the best yet and is introducing several sports competitions that have not previously been included in the Maccabiah Games.

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But even before the games, let’s not forget that Israel always does extremely well in the Paralympics, which begin on August 29 and end on September 9.

Given previous performance, it is unlikely that the Paralympic team will return from London without a medal. Maybe this time it will also get the recognition that it deserves on the home front.

■ TOMORROW, AUGUST 16, marks the 99th anniversary of the birth of Israel’s sixth prime minister, Menachem Begin. This past March, the nation marked the 20th anniversary of his passing.

For most of his life in Israel – a period that spanned 50 years – he lived a very simple lifestyle in a small, modest apartment in Tel Aviv. Although his oratory was occasionally bombastic, the highly educated Begin remained forever the gentleman and a man of the people.

Tonight at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, Begin’s birthday will be celebrated with the screening of Avi Amber’s film, I’m just a simple Jew, which depicts the man behind the leader through the perceptions of those who were closest to him.

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Very often, the views of an Opposition leader may change when an election allows him to move to the other side of the table. In Begin’s case this did not happen. The values he held dear as a young man remained with him throughout his life. The film is being screened under the auspices of the Begin Heritage Center, whose director, Herzl Makov, will give an introductory address prior to the screening.

Following the screening, Amber will conduct a discussion with the audience.

■ SEVERAL GUESTS passing through the lobby of the Tel Aviv Hilton stopped and gawked at the familiar face which they knew so well from their television screens, but had not expected to see in Israel. Famed British actor Sir Patrick Stewart, best known for his roles in Star Trek and X-Men arrived in Israel last Thursday to join a star-studded Israeli cast who will be playing in Reshef Levy’s delightful comedy, Hunting Elephants.

Stewart will be playing a somewhat off-the-wall British gentleman who joins in a noble project to heist a bank.

His partners in crime will be three senior citizens who have been recruited by a young boy who is using their services to save his family home from being repossessed by the bank.

Among the others in the cast are Sasson Gabbay, Moni Moshonov, Moshe Ivgy, Tzvika Hadar and Yael Abecassis.

Reshef Levi, who scripted the film, is also its director. Ehud Bleiberg, Moshe Edery and Leon Edery of United King are the co-producers in addition to which the production receives the support of the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund and the Rabinovich Foundation Cinema Project.

Shooting of the film began in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv prior to Stewart’s arrival. This is not the first time that Sir Patrick has been in Israel. He was previously in the country for four days last year preparing for the role of Shylock in The Merchamt of Venice. The role in Hunting Elephants was originally given to British actor John Cleese, but he dropped out for health reasons.

Stewart will stay in Israel for approximately three weeks – and it won’t all be work. Among other things, he wants to get a different perspective on Middle East issues than what he gets from news outlets at home. He had enjoyed his previous visit so much that he told friends that he was just waiting for an opportunity to return.’ He told Ronnie Fortis, the director of Hiltons Israel, that he was happy to be in the country not as a tourist but as part of an Israeli movie production. Stewart is not known as a comedian, but he quite fancies the idea of being remembered as someone who made people laugh.

■ FILM COMMITMENTS notwithstanding, Sasson Gabbay also has commitments to the theater and will be among the actors who will give readings at Tel Aviv’s Cameri Theater and at the Dimona Theater at this year’s Literature on Stage Festival, featuring both French and Israeli authors. The festival will run from September 10-13, with most of the readings taking place at the Cameri Theater and one in the Dimona Theater.

Writers whose works have been selected include: Amira Casar, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Agathe Natanson, Orly Castel-Bloom, Ronit Matalon, Moshe Sakal, and Meïr Shalev . The readers will be Yael Abecassis, Ania Bukstein, Evgenia Dodina, Sasson Gabbay, Zohar Goren, Dror Keren, Yiftah Klein, Noah Raban-Knoller, Ofir Nahari, Menashe Noï, Amos Tamam and Yaacov Zaada Daniel.

Simultaneous translations will be available.

■ “IMAGINE THIS: two Jews, one opinion!” wrote Lori Lowenthal Marcus in The Jewish Press last week. “And not only two Jews, but two Jewish organizations, one representing Jewish Democrats and one representing Jewish Republicans, and there is still only one opinion,” she continued. “Who accomplished this miracle? None other than former US president Jimmy Carter.”

Lowenthal Marcus was referring to a video-linked convention speech that Carter is scheduled to give on Tuesday, September 4. The announcement last week by the Democratic National Committee that Carter would appear by video link at the Democratic National Convention in the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, elicited objections from both Democrats and Republicans of the Mosaic persuasion.

“In what may be a first, the Republican Jewish Coalition and the National Jewish Democratic Council agree on something, and it is something important,” wrote Lowenthal Marcus.

Carter gets a low grade from both camps on his Israel-related track record. Even the most diehard Jewish Democrats cannot justify some of the derogatory remarks that he has made about Israel. Many right-wing American citizens living in Israel may be inclined to vote Republican no matter how much it bothers them that presidential candidate Mitt Romney is a Mormon who condoned the converting of Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

It’s possible that Romney’s Freudian slip in announcing his running mate may prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Romney asked the crowd to welcome the nominee for the next president – not vice president – of the United States, Paul Ryan.

■ AMONG THE teachers returning to school next month will be the eloquent and charismatic Miriam Peretz, who came to public attention as the mother of two sons who fell in the line of duty while serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Uriel Peretz died in 1998 while fighting in Lebanon and his younger brother, Eliraz Peretz, an officer in the Golani unit was killed in Gaza in 2010 while in pursuit of terrorist forces. According to a Yediot Aharonot report, Miriam Peretz, a veteran teacher, school principal and inspector was recently notified that the Petah Tikva Municipal Council had decided to rename the Amit Yeshiva and to add to the title the name of her son, Eliraz. The news was imparted to her by the head of the yeshiva, Rabbi Shimon Shoshan.

Peretz’s reaction was to instantly offer to be a volunteer teacher at the yeshiva with the aim of teaching the students about the values that had guided her sons in life – love for the state, volunteerism, generosity of spirit and recognition of the good in others.

■ APPROXIMATELY A year ago, El Al launched a project to write a miniature Torah Scroll for Israel Unity, with the aim of strengthening the connection between Israel, the Jewish Diaspora and Israel’s national air carrier. Many public figures from Israel and other parts of the Jewish world have written letters in the scroll, among them President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, as well as members of Israel’s Olympic delegation and heads of Jewish organizations from many parts of the globe. The scroll, which is nearing completion, will be housed in the synagogue on the EL AL campus and will be carried on flights of national and historical importance.

Last week, in the course of a tour of Jerusalem by El Al top brass led by CEO Eliezer Shkedi, letters were added to the scroll by Bank Leumi chairman David Brodet, businessman and former basketball star Miki Berkowitz and his wife Adi, chairman of the Jerusalem Development Authority Moshe Leon, EL AL presenter Shlomo Baraba, singer Einat Sarouf, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, CEO of the Make- A-Wish Foundation Denise Bar- Aharon and radio personality Didi Harari.

In addition to performing the holy task with the assistance of a qualified scribe, the group toured Yad Vashem and the Western Wall tunnels. At the conclusion of the tour, the El Al management hosted the group at the capital’s Kedma restaurant, where Shkedi was pleasantly surprised by his colleagues, who had remembered that this was a significant day in his life – and duly celebrated his birthday.

■ SOMETIMES THERE can be too much of a good thing. The plethora of Daf Yomi celebrations marking the end of a seven-and-a-half year Talmud learning cycle amounted to overkill. There was just so much that people could take. Thus despite the hard work, the dedication, the abundance of publicity and the high caliber of speakers for the International Young Israel Movement’s Siyum Hashas event that took place at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue last Thursday, there was an inescapable paucity of attendance.

It was announced that the doors would open at 6:45 p.m., an hour before the program was due to begin. Anticipating that there would be a huge rush for seats, there were early birds sitting in the plaza of the synagogue even earlier.

The event was held in partnership with the Yeshiva University Israel Alumni, the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, the World Mizrahi Movement, Kollel Torah MiTzion, the Council of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel and the Rabbinical Council of America, so it was small wonder that organizers expected mammoth participation, especially as the Great Synagogue’s Saturday night winter lectures attract as many as 1,500 people.

Together with featured speakers, greetings and presentations, there were no less than 14 speakers, most of whom came to Israel from the United States or Canada. Some of the addresses were truly riveting, and it was a pity that such eloquent words of wisdom were delivered to people already exhausted from participation in other Daf Yomi celebrations. There was relief when the Great Synagogue’s chief cantor, Chaim Adler, was called to the microphone, but he sang only one song and there was great disappointment that it was not a rousing one.

Rabbi Adin Steinzaltz, who is famous for making the Talmud accessible, through translation to vast numbers of people who might otherwise not study it, prided himself on being the only Jerusalemite among the speakers and said he’d been born some 200 meters from the Great Synagogue.

He should have checked his facts – Rabbi Yosef Carmel, the head of the Eretz Hemdah Rabbinical Court as well as the rabbinical dean of the Eretz Hemdah Institute for Advanced Jewish Studies, was also born in Jerusalem and served as a combat soldier in the Yom Kippur War and the First Lebanon War.

■ AT VARIOUS China-Israel diplomatic events this year, the 20th anniversary year of diplomatic ties between the two countries, both Chinese and Israeli speakers have invariably referred to relations between China and the Jews during the World War II. when many Jews found a refuge in Shanghai.

Now there is more than just a verbal reminder. Jerusalem’s House of Quality will host an exhibition of photographs and personal items that have been made available by the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum in the Hongkou District of Shanghai.

The exhibition, which will be open to the public from August 18, will have a special opening tomorrow, August 16, with the participation of former refugees and their families as well as a delegation from the Hongkou District and officials from the Chinese Embassy, the Jerusalem Municipality and various Israeli public figures. Speakers will include vice district Mayor of Hongkou Li Guohua, chairman of the board of the Jerusalem House of Quality Rafael Aldor, Shanghai-born Miriam Hausman, director of the North East Asia Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Hagai Shagrir and Nina Admoni (nee Wertan), a Warsaw-born former refugee whose family managed to escape to Vilna, where they were among the fortunate people to receive a visa from Japanese Consul Chiune Sugihara.

The visa, which would take them through Japan, enabled them to receive an exit visa from Russian-occupied Vilna. They then went to Moscow and boarded a trans-Siberian train to Vladivostock and from there a ship to Japan. The journey took around two weeks. They spent six months in Japan while Admoni’s parents tried unsuccessfully to obtain an entry visa to the United States. They then joined other refugees in traveling to Shanghai, which at the time was the only place open to them. Shanghai was subsequently occupied by the Japanese and later bombed by the Americans, but most of the Jewish refugees survived. In September 1945, the Americans began entering Shanghai and the Jews began to leave after receiving letters from relatives in other parts of the world. Some of these relatives had gone to other countries before the war, while others had survived and were desperate to reunify the remnants of their families. The Wertans were able to get visas to the US and Ecuador and arrived in San Francisco in December 1947 under the classification of displaced persons.

President Truman’s DP Act enabled them to remain in America indefinitely. They moved to New York, where they had some relatives.

After studying at the University of New York, the young Nina Wertan applied to study at Berkeley in California. where she had two Israeli roommates. One introduced her to an Israeli student, a Jerusalemite who had been in the Hagana and had fought in the War of Independence.

His name was Nahum Admoni. They fell in love, got married on August 3, 1952 at Temple Beth El in Berkeley and settled in Jerusalem in 1954.

Nahum Admoni began working in the Prime Minister’s Office, then later was a diplomat representing Israel abroad and from 1982 to 1989 was head of Mossad, and later director general of Mekorot, the national water company.

■ ISRAELIS WHO visit the synagogue in Rhodes are often surprised when they read the names on the plaque commemorating Jewish citizens murdered by the Nazis. Nearly all the surnames are familiar because those who were killed were distantly or sometimes closely related to the best-known Greek families who settled in pre-state Israel.

Holocaust survivors from Rhodes and the nearby island of Kos assembled with members of their families at Yad Vashem last week in an emotional gettogether in which they reflected on what happened following the Nazi conquest in September 1943 in the immediate aftermath of the Nazi invasion of Italy. Jews in Rhodes died not only at the hands of the Nazis but also as a result of the bombardment of Rhodes by the Allies. In July 1944, some 1,600 Jews who remained on the island were ordered to assemble at various points from where they were sent to Athens on barges. They traveled without food or water. The barges initially made their way to Kos, where over 100 Jews were piled onto the barges to be deported along with the Jews of Rhodes. The boats then stopped at the island of Leros to deport the sole Jewish man who lived on the island.

After arriving in Athens, the Jews were detained at the infamous Chaidari concentration camp and from there were deported to Auschwitz. Less than 200 survived.

Not all the survivors present at Yad Vashem last week had given testimony, and Irena Steinfeldt, director of Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations Department, urged them to fill out pages of testimony in memory of the Rhodes and Kos Jews who were murdered and to thereby assist Yad Vashem in creating a living memorial for these communities.

“To me, the story of Rhodes and Kos symbolizes the whole story and uniqueness of the Holocaust. Despite the fact that it was clear to all that the Germans were losing the war, they still took all measures to murder the Jews – even one, on a distant Greek island,” she said.

Former MK Colette Avital, who chairs the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, spoke of the flourishing Jewish community of pre-war Rhodes, a place of synagogues, a yeshiva, culture, and trade.

She also recalled the heroic actions of Turkish Righteous Among the Nations Selahattin Ulkumen, who rescued approximately 50 Jews in Rhodes. Also among those present was Foundation for the Preservation of the Jewish Heritage of Rhodes chairman Mario Suriano.

■ TEL AVIV Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who is chairman of the Yad Vashem Council and one of the most famous child Holocaust survivors, traveled to Russia this week to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the murder of the Jews of Rostow. In August 1942, at least 27,000 people in Rostow were massacred by Nazi troops. More than half of the victims were Jews.

The original memorial plaque had mentioned Jews, but at the orders of Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, all references to Jews were removed.

Following protests by the Russian Jewish Congress and the Russian Federation Council, the wording on the plaque was amended in 2005 by the Rostow Municipal Council, but in 2011, a higher authority, claiming that the monument commemorating the Rostow massacre was in need of repairs, removed the plaque and the one affixed in its stead again omitted all reference to Jews.

Lau had a very personal reason for going to Rostow, aside from his position at Yad Vashem.

When he was a boy in Buchenwald, Feodor Mikhailtschenko, a forced laborer who had been arrested by the Nazis in 1943 at age 16, took care of him in Block 8, where child prisoners were kept. Mikhailtschenko took pity on the little boy, who was known as Lolek, performed some of his chores, managed to find earmuffs for him during the harsh winter and often risked his life to save him. After the war, he wanted to take him to Rostow and adopt him, but the boy’s older brother objected and said that they were going to the homeland of the Jewish people.

Lolek, who survived the war and became the chief rabbi of Israel, had searched for Feodor many times, but did not know his last name and did not discover it until 2008, when Kenneth Waltzer, an American researcher from Michigan State University solved the mystery after the International Tracing Service at Bad Arolsen opened its files to academics. In August 2008, Yad Vashem contacted Yulia Selutina, one of Feodor’s daughters, who confirmed that her father, who had become an internationally renowned geologist, had frequently talked about those days in Buchenwald and about the little boy who had made such a deep impression on him. He had tried to find Lolek, but when he failed he became convinced that Lolek had been killed fighting in one of Israel’s wars. A year, later on August 4, 2009 Feodor Mikhailtschenko was honored at Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations. The ceremony was attended by his two daughters Yulia Selutina and Yelena Belayaeva, who said that their father had talked about Lolek until his dying day.

Lau was reunited with the two sisters during his visit to Rostow this week and went with them to visit their father’s grave so that he could say “thank you” to the man to whom he owes his life.

A large contingent of Jews participated in this year’s memorial service in Rostow and wore black armbands highlighted by the word “Jude” in yellow. The demonstration obviously made an impression on the Rostow authorities, who promised Lau that a Jewish monument would be put up alongside the existing monument. Also this week was the 60th anniversary on August 12 of the Night of the Murdered Poets, when 13 Jewish intellectuals were executed in the Lubyanka prison in Moscow as part of Stalin’s purge policy against the Jews. The 13, who had all belonged to the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee established in 1942 with the aim of promoting international Jewish support for the USSR’s battle against Nazi Germany, were later convicted of espionage and treason. Among them was famed Yiddish poet, novelist and playwright Peretz Markish, who was posthumously exonerated in 1955.

■ WHILE ON the subject of milestone anniversaries, 70 years and one week ago, on August 8, 1942, Gerhart M. Riegner, who was the World Jewish Congress representative in Geneva, sent a Western Union cablegram to British and American diplomats.

It read: “Received alarming report about plan being discussed and considered in Führer headquarters to exterminate at one fell swoop all Jews in German- controlled countries comprising three and a half to four million after deportation and concentration in the east thus solving Jewish question once and for all stop campaign planned for autumn methods being discussed including hydrocyanic acid.”

A few days earlier, Riegner had been told in a telephone call from a friend at the Federation of Jewish Communities in Switzerland that he had learned from a German industrialist of the Nazis’ plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe. The US vice consul in Geneva forwarded a copy of the cable to president of the World Jewish Congress Stephen Wise, who alerted the authorities in Washington. However, the US State Department treated the contents as a wild rumor. The British Foreign Office doubted the credibility of the information and said it would not do anything until the allegations were properly investigated.

It took another three months before the State Department, which had mounted its own investigation, conceded the veracity of Riegner’s cable. But another month elapsed before president Franklin Delano Roosevelt took any action to save the Jews, by which time it was too late for too many. How different history could have been.

■ IT’S HARDLY a new trend, but the fact that it keeps repeating itself is yet another proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same. A survey by Avi Malcha, the CEO at Ml Fashion, indicates that what influences the public to buy a particular brand or style is the celebrity who’s modelling it. If the celebrity is popular, the garment will go like hot cakes.

Based on this, Ml signed up Miri Mesika and Amos Tamam for a second season. A singer and actress, Mesika had never modelled before being signed up as the presenter for Ml’s spring/summer collection for 2012. She proved to be such a hit with the public, as did Tamam, that Ml promptly signed them up for fall/winter.

Each will receive NIS 350,000.

Nice work, if you can get it.

■ ALTHOUGH HER birthday was not until this week, broadcaster and print media journalist Judy Shalom Nir Mozes, who is married to Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee Silvan Shalom, celebrated on air last Friday when colleagues and social welfare activist Menashe Cohen, with whom she works in distributing food and clothing to needy youngsters, brought a cake and played “Happy Birthday” while she was in mid-sentence.

Shalom Nir Mozes, whose late mother, Paula, was involved with numerous charitable enterprises, and who used to engage the local garbage collectors in serious conversation, inherited her mother’s spontaneous habit of helping others but said that she never got as deeply involved as in Cohen’s not-for-profit Hom (Warmth) Foundation, nor had she ever reaped as much satisfaction.

Another well-known broadcaster who was roped in by Cohen is Nissim Mishal. Earlier in the month, Shalom Nir Mozes celebrated her husband’s 54th birhday. Silvan Shalom was born in Tunisia on August 4, 1958.

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